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Pelegrini i vonuar.

Have readers not had enough of Dritero Agolli, the head of the party-controlled Union of Writers and Artists from the purge of the liberals in 1973 to the end of the dictatorship in 1990, cynosure of the official literary establishment of communist Albania, and now a leading politician of the opposition Socialist Party to boot? Somber dealings, his opponents and critics would say--somber not only in view of the daily electricity, cuts in the Albanian capital, but also because of all the mudslinging in and around the Albanian parliament. No, in fact, readers have not had enough. Dritero Agolli, short-story writer and poet of the soil, is a rare voice of humanity and sincerity in Albanian letters. He is a poet who, despite the vicissitudes of public life, has managed to remain true to himself and to his readers.

Pelegrini i vonuar (The Belated Pilgrim) is Agolli's first volume of verse since Udhetoj i menduar (Pensive I Wander; 1985) and his first book ever written without an eye to the invisible censor. It is an impressive collection of 217 previously unpublished poems in which we encounter a new chapter not only in the life of the poet but also in the struggle of his people for survival. It will be years before Albanians recover from the decades of isolation, inhumanity, and terror they lived through under the surrealist reign of Enver Hoxha. Like victims of a sudden traffic accident, they are only now waking, slowly and painfully, to understand what hit them in the first place. Gone is the trepidation, but also gone are the all-encompassing ideals and values of the past. The aging poet is left to pick up the pieces and start again: "A pilgrim I have been for ages / I wander through a land of vanished hopes / Separated unwittingly from my caravan."

In a postscript Agolli confesses: "For poets of my generation, an age of disappointments and dilemmas has dawned, an age in which to reevaluate what we produced, without forgetting or denying those fair and humane values we brought forth. But the fortress of ideas and ideals which we believed in, some of us completely, others partially, has all but collapsed, and in its walls burn the fires of our dreams. Those fires have awakened a different type of verse." If comprehending the past enables people to deal with the present and prepare for the future, Dritero Agolli's verse--the bread of life, as a younger writer recently put it--will certainly be of assistance to Albanians in digesting the collective trauma that their nation has suffered.

Robert Elsie Olzheim/Eifel, Ger.
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Author:Elsie, Robert
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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